On a hill overlooking a misty downtown skyline Sunday, a crowd of 500 gathered in the afternoon sunlight to celebrate the life of Lily Burk, cut short by a brutal murder last month.
It was a ceremony of song, poetry and heartbreaking tributes to the 17-year-old Los Feliz resident who loved to act, sing and write.
"Her absence empties the world for me," said Burk's mother, attorney Deborah Drooz.
Her father, Greg Burk, a music journalist, spoke of his daughter as someone who "could see right into our souls without even thinking about it, and she loved us anyway."
Many at the service wept openly. Others hugged each other, and some sat in stunned silence. Three hundred folding chairs were spread out under a white canopy on a hilltop of Barnsdall Art Park in East Hollywood. Teenagers, some in colorful dresses and shorts, others wearing black, spread out on blankets on the grass.
It was a place where Burk, an only child, had enjoyed spending time with her family.
The ceremony opened with a song, "Golden Dream," accompanied by a guitar, and closed with a saxophone piece, "Lotus Blossom." Poems by Li-Young Lee and Shel Silverstein were read.
Classmates and teachers from Oakwood Secondary School paid tribute to Burk, a National Merit scholar who acted in school drama productions, "loved with ferocity," gave "the best hugs" and could be "a champion procrastinator."
Her voice quavering, Emma Wartzman, a close friend, said: "Lil', I don't know how everything is going to be fine now. I don't have a piece of me. I don't understand it."
Some sought to comfort Burk's parents. "To continue in this sorrowful world is the greatest triumph no one ever talks about," said Lewis MacAdams, a friend of the family. "We want you to be braver than we are."
Burk's slaying has touched off widespread concern in the city and an outpouring of grief from those who knew her. The young woman had left her family's home the afternoon of July 24 to pick up some papers at Southwestern Law School in the mid-Wilshire area for her mother, who teaches there. Shortly afterward, she made separate calls to her parents asking for the PIN number of a credit card in order to get money from an ATM machine.
When she did not return that evening, her parents called the police. Burk's body was found the next morning in the passenger seat of her Volvo in a downtown parking lot.
Charles Samuel, a 50-year-old transient and parolee who was enrolled in a residential drug-treatment program, was arrested the same day. He has been charged with murder, kidnapping to commit robbery, robbery and attempted robbery from an ATM.
Police said they have collected footage from surveillance cameras showing Samuel driving Burk's car away from the law school area with the girl in the passenger seat. He also appears standing with Burk at a downtown ATM machine and later abandoning the car in the parking lot where the body was found, police said.
Samuel had a long history of drug and alcohol abuse and crime. In 1987, he pleaded guilty to robbery and residential burglary after abducting an elderly man from his home and driving in the man's car to an ATM where he demanded money. He struck the man with his cane and threatened to kill him if he reported the crime. Samuel got six years in prison.